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Sea turtles rehabilitated by Gulfarium's C.A.R.E Center released at Topsail Hill

Devon Ravine
Northwest Florida Daily News

SANTA ROSA BEACH — As rain from the outer edges of Tropical Storm Zeta poured down, Gulfarium's staff and volunteers released four juvenile green sea turtles back into the Gulf on Tuesday at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in South Walton County.

“They were all brought in from the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier, and they were all caught in the mouth or foul-hooked externally,” said Terra Throgmorton, medical and stranding coordinator for Gulfarium’s C.A.R.E. Center.

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Gulfarium C.A.R.E. Center volunteer Bob Blais and Florida State Park Ranger Sasha Craft carry a juvenile green sea turtle down the boardwalk at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park on Tuesday. The turtle was one of four that was rehabilitated at the C.A.R.E. Center and released back into the Gulf of Mexico.

The turtles were rehabilitated at the nonprofit C.A.R.E. Center, which focuses on rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing endangered sea turtles.

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One of the turtles, named Blackfin, has been at the C.A.R.E. Center since June. Blackfin recently had been cleared for release when the center got three more injured turtles from the pier, including one repeat offender.

A green sea turtle that was rehabilitated at the Gulfarium’s C.A.R.E. Center waits to be released back into the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.

“One of them was Pinny, who has been with us five times now," Throgmorton said. “Every single time she’s been brought in from the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier, so clearly she lives there.

“This time she didn’t need surgery,” Throgmorton added, althought the staff did have to wait for the turtle to pass some fishing gear she had ingested.

Throgmorton said the center has taken in almost 60 injured sea turtles this year and estimated the number released to be in the 40s.

Terra Throgmorton and Bob Blais carry a juvenile green sea turtle to the surf at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park on Tuesday.

About a half-dozen rain-soaked beachgoers were on hand to watch Tuesday’s release, a far cry from the hundreds of spectators who have attended turtle releases in the past. 

"It’s been a little different with COVID,” Throgmorton said. “Public releases are a thing of the past right now, unfortunately.”

Throgmorton said COVID-19 has had other impacts, such as fewer turtle stranding reports because there weren’t as many people on the fishing piers.

Aimee Brim, director of marketing and communication at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, photographs Johanna Sholar and Terra Throgmorton on Tuesday as they carry two juvenile green sea turtles into the surf at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.

“But we are pleased with the numbers we do have,” she said.

“It’s nice to get them (the turtles) out and back in their natural habitat and then also be able to make room for more animals that need our help.”